Sunday, June 10, 2012

not following patterns, part 1

There is a lovely yarn shop in Tulsa OK (LOOPS) that has an hilarious knitting bag for sale. It reads I will follow the pattern through the gates of HELL! We hope this is tongue-in-cheek?

Okay, so why not follow the pattern? 

Of course, there are occasional mistakes in patterns that we need to recognize and not follow. But this is not at all what I am speaking to. As elaborated in the previous post, there are places in the pattern where we must alter the pattern to get the right fit.

Where are they? Wonderfully, they aren't that many. But they are mighty! Get this right, and your garment fits: get it wrong, and well, we know that result all too well.
  • any kind of length--garment, sleeve, or waist
  • shoulder width
  • number of stitches to cast on for a sleeve
  • number of stitches for a cardigan front (if the pattern gives a total)
Speaking to the first issue . . . Forever, knitting patterns have said "Knit to 10 1/2" or desired length." And it was easy enough to just say Okay, I desire 10 1/2". They know what they're doing, right?

But they don't! Your size was based upon your girth, and the pattern writer has no idea how tall you are! You follow their length, and you might end up looking like Mrs Doubtfire!

This rather wimpy instruction is very different from the sewing world's SHORTEN OR LENGTHEN HERE. And it is to this standard that I wish knitting would adhere. As I said in the previous post, this says 1) do something and 2) do it here!

But what about those other 3 bullets?

Adjusting for shoulder width is a relatively new concept in knitting but, oh, when your garment fits on your shoulders your garment FITS!

It's odd that in the knitting world--and, I might add, in the ready-to-wear world--garments have ever wider shoulders for every larger sizes. (You've seen this, a pattern that reads 14 [15, 16, 17 18]" across the shoulders of 5 sizes for a sleeveless or set-in-sleeve garment. And you've bought many a set-in-sleeve garment whose shoulders were cut this way!)

Why? Because this graduated shoulder width does not reflect the population! When measuring students in class, over 50% of them have 15–16" shoulders. And I've met XS's with 18" shoulders and 2X's with 14" shoulders. So what I've started doing is one size shoulder width for all. And then I've added the following instruction: WIDEN OR NARROW FOR SHOULDER WIDTH BY WORKING FEWER OR MORE DECREASES. When you knit this pattern, you'll just reduce at the armhole to a different number than the pattern--and deal with it when you bind off for the shoulders.

For example, if you decrease to 72 (instead of 76), you have 4 fewer stitches than the pattern. When the pattern's shoulders end with "Bind off 5 stitches at the beginning of the next 8 rows", you'll bind off 5 stitches twice but 4 stitches twice--because you have 2 fewer stitches on each shoulder. And this is really easy to do when there is only one set of numbers across the shoulders and neck--as happens when we don't have graduated shoulder widths for 5 sizes.

If knitting patterns are responsive to our needs, they will adhere to this standard. 

In following posts I'll address the other 2 issues. And in a follow-up post I'll talk about why we think we need to follow patterns. And then I'll tell you my most common knitting mistake!


  1. In the third last paragraph, I should have said "5 stitches twice but 4 stitches twice across each shoulder's bind-off's."

    Sorry for any confusion. I was trying to be brief!

  2. Sally, thank you for blogging about this!
    Interestingly, I am currently making a sweater that many have made shorter by decreasing the length between the decreases to the waist and the beginning of the increases to the bust (bottom-up construction). I chose to knit the pattern as written through the bust increases, but knitting shorter after the bust, so that the narrower waist section would fit through my rib-cage. And it worked perfectly for my body!

    Looking forward to reading more! :)

  3. How wonderful of you to have figured out where and how to do what you needed to make your sweater fit! Goodonya!

    More soon . . . .

  4. I think there are two factors that really make it hard for knitters to figure out what size we're supposed to knit. First, it's really hard to ger accurate measurements. Bust is easy to measure, so it's easy to use that to determine what size you should knit. But shoulder width? I've heard several different explanations of how you should measure that, and they give me different numbers. So I don't have any confidence using those measurements to choose a size or modify a pattern. To that confusion, add the concept of ease, which is even harder to measure. The usual advice is to measure something that fits you well, but if it's something with negative ease, it's hard to judge if it has the same degree of stretch as your knitted fabric will. Even if you do get both your shoulder measurements and ease calculations correct, if the pattern you want to knit is a raglan or a circular yoke, how do you translate those measurements to that construction? Sigh.

  5. I teach classes on measurement, and you are absolutely right about those shoulders! I often have to help. And I've seen two very bad ways to measure: from the outside of the arm (too wide) or between knitting needles sticking out from the armpits (too narrow). Perhaps you can find a top with set-in sleeves, pin it where you would LIKE the shoulders to sit, and measure from there?

    And you are also right about the EASE thing! Different styles require different ease. Despite my ability to suppose I know what I am doing, I too can be fooled by 0 or negative ease. In this situation, I will knit front and back, sew the pieces, try it on, pin it how I would LIKE it to fit, then rip and re-knit. But once I have that information I have it for all garments in that style.

    What you say about raglans and circular yokes reminds me why I don't often knit either: too hard to make them fit! For me, it's all about the fit, which the set-in sleeve does best.

    Thanks for writing, and I do hope you'll check out my next book in which many of your questions will be answered.